Long before Gore-Tex® existed, people needed ways to protect from wet their clothing or packets containing valuable items. From an early time, oils, grease, and wax were applied to fabrics like linen or cotton. One of my favorite items, years ago, was a waxed cotton raincoat. It was lightweight and it kept me completely dry. Alas, after years and years of use, it began to crack and crumble. One of these days I’ll invest in another one.
Even today, though, waterproofing leather shoes and boots can be iffy. My wonderful waterproof L.L. Bean boots use rubber and high tech insulating material to keep my feet dry. But rubber-coated clothing was just getting started in the early 19th century—and would any self-respecting dandy wear clunky rubber anything, anyway?
We know that our well-dressed gentlemen's shoes and boots were usually polished to an extreme shine. How effective this was against rain and snow is an interesting question. This is one of many areas I haven’t researched extensively, so our historical dress experts are welcome to weigh in.
Meanwhile, here’s a recommendation from 1835, lifted, as so much was, from another source, although this time credit is given.
~~~AN IMPORTANT IMPROVEMENT IN SHOES AND BOOTS.—
The following method of preparing water-proof leather at a very small expense will be found invariably to succeed:—Take one pint of drying oil, two ounces of yellow wax, two ounces of spirit of turpentine, and one ounce of Burgundy pitch, melted carefully over a slow fire; with this composition new shoes and boots are to be rubbed in the sun, or at a distance from the fire, with a sponge as often as they become dry, until they are fully saturated; the leather then is impervious to wet, the shoes and boots last much longer, acquire softness and pliability, and thus prepared, are the most effectual preservatives against cold and chilblains.—London Paper
—The Museum of Foreign Literature, Science, and Art, Volume 27, 1835
The Whole Art of Dress! By a Cavalry Officer, 1830